The path

You can step away
from the treadmill now.
We both know how tired
you have become;
we both know how the noise
has been driving you mad.

I won’t blame you for getting on
in the first place. We were all lied to.
We were all told
that it led somewhere.
Look how many increase the speed
hoping to get there faster;
see how inevitably
they fall.

I am glad to have reached you.
Come away now. Come out into the sun,
into the wind and the rain.
Here is a path.
I cannot tell you how long it is,
or the wonders, the tragedies you will find
around its sharp corners
(but, Christ alive,
if you open your heart as much as your eyes
you will find them).

I can tell you that it will end in your death –
of course! And why would we forget?

The ground is solid, but softer than you might think.
You can sit down anywhere
and admire the view.
You are encouraged to make a habit of rest.

At many points it will branch off
and you won’t know which path to take.
Do not be convinced that it matters.
But take note of this:
in all places it is wider
than one set of shoulders.

Gideon Heugh

To live is enough

Do you think that your life has a purpose?
Do you believe that it should?

What is it you are meant to be doing
with this tangle of light and shadow that is you?

***

I asked the gods
(there were three on this occasion)
if it was enough to just live.
One of them began to sob.
One of them – I kid you not –
got down on their knees and began to pray.
And the last one it seemed
was struggling to contain their laughter.

As I was leaving, this god, now in fits of giggles,
caught up with me, gesturing to the wide doors
that led outside, ‘Yes! Of course yes! But my friend,
what do you think that living is?’

***

Once you have the right question
you might discover that you already have the answer.

***

To live is enough.
Every living thing except the human being
will tell you this.

The angels are not writing an evaluation,
they are simply gazing (a little awestruck)
into your face, waiting for your eyes
to widen in wonder,
your mouth to arise into a smile,
your cheek to be blessed with tears.

Do you understand?

***

If I am to do one thing it must be this:
to teach you that the earth is a gift
to be be joyfully and solemnly received,
and that you yourself are a gift
to be joyfully and solemnly given.

Life – yes, the life that you so crave –
is this simple, this gentle exchange.

***

I walk beneath the trees,
oak and ash and beech,
each one content (and nothing could convince me otherwise)
with both its uniqueness
and its utter reliance on all that is not itself.

Scientists tell us that the tips of their roots intertwine
with the thin halls of fungus
that cross the soil, sharing nutrients and information
and who knows what else
with the greater web of life.

A prophet could not have said it better.

Do you think you are self-sufficient?
Do you think you are self-made?
Do you think you can do it on your own?

The air would beg to differ, as would the flesh
of the plants, and the animals.

Let us speak then – and without cynicism – of love.
Let us give thanks that we are not alone.
Let us know it deeply.

***

The sun and the rain and the soil give life.
The world offers freely its beauty and delight.

Reciprocate.

***

Tell me, friend,
have you loved today?
Have you set the fruits of the earth upon your plate
and made a proclamation of grace?
Have you let your body know that it is real,
have you moved it through the gorgeous world
of which it is a gorgeous part?

Is life enough? Are you?

When we are not bothering the gods
with our search for answers
they are dancing.

The light that our ruin lets in

There is the breaking. The falling. The tearing open. The pulled apart. The head buried in the hands. The fists pounding on the floor. The shrieks and the sobs and the why and the why and the why.

This is the broken heart; the grief; the failure; the betrayal; the disappointment; the loss.

There is the waking up in the wilderness. The long and trembling wait. The glimpses of movement in the shadows. The unexpected expansion. The deeper rivers discovered. The reality uncovered. The truth rushing up. The love pouring in and pouring in and pouring in.

This is the dawn that the darkness brings; the light that our ruin lets in; the gold filling the cracks in our shattered selves.

There is the realisation. The astonishment of grace. The response. The renewed or newly discovered purpose. The opening up. The reaching out. The tentative steps forward growing bolder and bolder and bolder.

This is the move from I to us, from me to we; the fierce and tender hope that only eyes that have wept can see; the journey that is goodness, is a terrible beauty, is the message that is written in the marrow of God.

Gideon Heugh

A thousand dreams

One of the rose shrubs in my garden has had a tough time of winter.

It lost most of its leaves to disease, and was further damaged by the January storms. Not to mention the attack it had to endure from my pruning shears. It’s been left a ragged, unlovely twist of stem and thorn.

And yet, it is not dead.

As spring approaches, something within its cells is saying Now.

Something within its sleepy green mind is saying Yes.

And new leaves are beginning to grow.

And a few months from now… it is hard to describe how lovely. How the pink will be a shock of new delight each morning. How the fragrance swimming in the warm sun will be like a thousand dreams remembered.

Of course, I’m not just talking about a rose here.

Hold on, you who have been winter-wrecked.
You are not dead.
Spring approaches, and beyond.

Gideon Heugh

Scalpel

Some poems emerge as an unfolding from within. Others are an idea or image that need to be worked on. Others arrive at you fully formed.

This poem hit me like a train yesterday and I had to rush to write it down before it passed all the way through.

It’s definitely a truth I needed to hear. Perhaps it is for you too:

Scalpel

The Holy Spirit
took out a scalpel
while I lay motionless
on the operating table.

I knew that it would hurt.
I knew from years of experience
that I could not get away.

The first slice
went through skin,
the second through muscle
and the third through bone.
She pushed her slender fingers
in, pinched, and pulled out
a bloody sample.

She placed it under a microscope
and studied it for a while.
There was a shake of the head,
a few mutterings
of disapproval.

Then she whipped around
and looked right at me,
and I felt the wound bubble
and hiss
from the glory;

‘What do you see?’
I stammered.

‘I see life, desperate
to be lived. I see
the divine image,
and gifts that only you can give.
‘I see all these things,
clear
and true,
and I see the fear
that is keeping them locked
within you.’

Gideon Heugh

The physicality of hope

Hope isn’t just a concept. There’s nothing intangible about it – nothing vague or illusory.

You can see it. You can touch it. It is happening right now within your very body.

Every day, more than a kilogram of cells in your body will die – and be replaced by brand new ones. Every second, 100 billion neurons in your brain are firing off dozens of messages each saying ‘Live. Begin. Move. Continue. Grow.’

Right now, across the northern hemisphere, plants and animals are noticing that the days are growing longer. Roots are detecting the building warmth within the soil. Subtle changes in air, earth and light are inspiring the web of life to plan its resurgence.

Sap is rising, sending water and nutrients for new buds. Seeds are germinating. Stems are pushing with divine force through the dirt towards a dream of sky. Birds who have spent the winter away are preparing for their journey home. Others are beginning to try out their spring songs.

The darker days will end. There is nothing uncertain about that. They will come again. There is nothing uncertain about that. There is decay, and there is new life. Skies turn black, stones are rolled away. All fades, all begins again.

You don’t need to conjure up hope. It’s in your DNA. It’s humming within the forces that sustain the universe. It’s everywhere.

Gideon Heugh

PS This is taken from the daily Lent reflections/poems I’m offering on social media. Find me on Instagram @gideon.heugh or on Facebook at facebook.com/gideonheugh to follow along. GH x

Sabbath poem

‘Sabbath poem’

I think we all need the spirit of shabbat at the moment: the spirit that says your worth does not depend upon productivity or achievement; the spirit that says joy needs to be taken seriously; the spirit that says, ‘Yes, life can be terrible, but look – isn’t it beautiful?’

Gideon Heugh

Thoughts on Christian nationalism and white supremacy

‘Jesus saves’

During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Trump put out a video of him holding a Bible while standing outside a church, having used teargas to clear the peaceful protesters who were there. In the recent presidential election, 75% of White evangelical Christians voted for Trump. Before the violent assault on the Capitol building last week, far-right extremist groups kneeled to pray. Some held up signs saying ‘Jesus saves’; others ‘Make America Godly again’.

Of course, doing awful things in the name of Christianity is as old as… well, Christianity. There’s nothing new about this. Part of the story of the birth of America is Christians ripping away the culture, rights, land and lives of the indigenous peoples. But that was then – aren’t we in the West more enlightened now?

What is anyone who associates themselves with Christianity meant to do with all of this? When a faith they hold dear is associated with aggressive nationalism, racism, patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia and abuse?

The church is full of good people doing good things. Yet these aren’t isolated issues. Much of it is systemic. And it’s certainly not just in the US.

What are we to do?

Lament.
Cry out.
Call out these perversions of faith for what they are.
And speak up for the true message of Christianity – of Christ:

Humility. Inclusivity. Nonviolence. Social justice. Generosity. Unconditional love.

Leaving the church is clearly an option being taken by many, and I would advocate for that if your church is a source of any of the injustices I’ve mentioned. Many are fighting for change from within, and that is beautiful and brave.

Do I still call myself a Christian? I’m not sure. These days I identify as much with my Jewish heritage. Whatever I choose to call myself, I still find Jesus compelling, because he represents the opposite of the intolerant, walls-up ideology that has so sadly surfaced in recent years.

If you want to go deeper into this, I cover part of it in the first episode of my podcast. I’ll be picking up the conversation in future episodes too.

Love and peace to you all,
Gideon x


Wassail!

Today is the Feast of Epiphany, which means Christmas is officially over (how did we ever get suckered into thinking it’s just one day? It’s right there in the song: twelve days! I feel cheated).

At this time of year it’s traditional in rural England to go wassailing. Usually this involves pouring cider around the base of an apple tree, putting a bit of toast in its boughs, then singing to it so that evil spirits are scared away. Folk traditions are awesome.

The idea is to bless the apple trees so they produce a good harvest later in the year. I love this because it’s a way of connecting us to the land at a time when that connection has all but disappeared.

I don’t have an apple tree, but at sundown this evening I’m going to stand in the garden, pour a little whisky on the ground, leave a slice of toast out, and pray that good things will grow this year.

Here’s a little wassail poem in case you do find yourself near an apple tree:

Bless you apple tree,
Bless the way you grow,
Bless the patience you have
In a hasty world
To be gentle, steady and slow.

Bless you apple tree,
Bless the way you live,
Bless the kindness you have
In a needy world
For the shelter and shade you give.

Bless you apple tree,
Bless the way you care,
Bless the generosity you have
In a selfish world
For the fruit you freely share

Bless you apple tree,
Bless everything you do,
Bless the wisdom you have
In a shallow world
To be content with being just you.

Gideon Heugh